The founders of Complexions Contemporary Ballet – a 24-year-old dance company based in New York City – believe that our complex world is becoming more like Complexions, as “it is becoming more and more fluid, more changeable, and more culturally interconnected than ever before,” they explain. Dance aficionados and those who enjoy innovative cultural events can attend the company’s performance of STARDUST: From Bach to Bowie on April 29 at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, featuring dance pieces set to music by Johann Sebastian and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, with a tribute to rock icon David Bowie.

Founded in 1994 by choreographers Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson, Complexions reinvents dance through a mix of methods, styles and cultures with roots in classical movements. The founders believe that dance should be about removing boundaries, while including open, evolving forms, reflecting numerous world cultures.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet has performed on five continents, in over 20 countries, and to more than 20 million television viewers. The company has received numerous awards including The New York Times Critics’ Choice Award.

For Complexions company member Candy Tong, performing in the Barclay event will be a homecoming. As a recent student at UC Irvine’s Dance Department in the school’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts, she was privileged to have performed on the Barclay stage.

Candy Tong (Photo by Joe Lyman)

In a phone interview from her San Francisco hometown, the 26-year-old dancer discussed her background as a dancer and lover of the arts. “From a very young age, my parents put me into dancing classes. I also drew, sang in a choir and played the piano. I am very grateful to them,” she said.

Tong began taking ballet classes at age three. “Then when I was nine years old, I decided that I wanted to be a dancer,” she said. “I told my mom and she was very supportive.”

She joined the pre-professional class of the San Francisco Ballet company, studying “with some of the best dance students in the city,” she said. Two years after joining the ballet school, Tong was cast in the company’s Nutcracker Ballet as Clara; a young girl who receives a nutcracker as a present and then dreams of helping The Nutcracker defeat the Mouse King in a battle. “I was so excited to see my name on the company’s casting sheet,” she said. “I was beaming from ear to ear. I was not only the youngest girl to play Clara. I was the tallest at five foot six. And we performed in a large, beautiful opera house.”

Tong danced with the San Francisco Ballet company until 2011. “By then at age 15, I was at Level 8, the most serious level.” She left the company, and then lived in various cities, including Seattle and London, England, studying ballet, while auditioning for companies all over Europe and the United States. But a fractured metatarsal caused her to cease leading a peripatetic life.

Candy Tong (Photo by Rachel Neville)

As Tong was recovering from her injury, her family encouraged her to apply to college. She decided on UC Irvine as it has one of the best dance departments in the country, she explained. She attended UCI from 2014 to 2017, studying with two “very supportive instructors” – Diane Diefendrfer, who has performed throughout Europe, Asia and the U.S., who favors George Balanchine roles, and Tong Wang who has performed with major dance companies in China and the United States.

“I spent two and a half years at  UCI,” Tong said, “graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.” From her first day there, her instructors said that she should be out in the professional dance world, and told her that they would help her get back out there.

“In my Freshman year, I attended a weeklong intensive Complexions workshop in Atlanta [a master class for dancers of all levels]. I immediately fell in love with Complexions, as the dancing style, combining classical ballet with hip hop, feels second nature to me. And as I’m five foot 10, curvy and not super skinny, it’s a struggle for me to fit into the norm [of ballet dancers]. But Complexions showcases the beauty of all sorts of dancers. One girl in the company is six foot two. One boy is five foot two.”

Soon after, Tong was invited by Dwight and Desmond to join their programs at New York’s Joyce Theater. They then asked her to join the company after graduation. She became a Complexions company member in January 2018.

Tong has traveled all over the country and the world with Complexions, even performing in Kiev and Odessa. She loves the company’s philosophy about pushing boundaries and addressing political issues such as Black Lives Matter. And she enjoys performing for audience members who have never seen ballet before.

For Candy Tong, becoming a member of Complexions Contemporary Ballet is a dream come true… and a mission to inspire others through the art of dance.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet will perform at the Irvine Barclay Theatre on Friday, April 29 at 8 PM. To order tickets for this and other upcoming performances, check out its Get Ready It’s Showtime brochure. Or go to: www.thebarclay.org. Contact the Box Office, 949-854-4646.

4242 Campus Dr, Irvine, CA 92612.   

Complexions Contemporary Ballet (Photo by Sharen Bradford)